Our alarm clock, the Big Ben Moon Beam clock that we got as a wedding present in October, 2000, no longer snoozes. This is a problem, because at our house we’ve developed a complex system of setting the clock too early, setting the alarm too early, and then waking ourselves up by the mental calculations required to figure out if we really can hit the snooze button again (“well, the clock says 7AM, which means it is 6:40, so technically I can snooze one more time”).
The Moon Beam has been pretty good, it starts waking us up by light, and then has an alarm bell it uses if we fail to respond to the light. It is relatively simple, a single button on top to snooze it, a switch to turn the alarm on and off, and dial controls to set the time and the alarm. The only tricky part is setting the alarm. It’s an analog clock, so the only way to set the alarm is to set the alarm hour hand to the right place. One semi-perplexing feature is that it is a 12 rather than a 24 hour clock, so I have been shocked to hear an alarm bell ringing in the evening and I have to remember to set the alarm before going to sleep. My main quibble is that it glows a little too ardently in the night-time. It’s kind of like a night-light.
I loved our clock, it’s attractive and non-complex. When I took it to the Alarming Usability event put on by the Michigan Usability Professionals’ Association last April, I thought it would be the clear winner, based on its simplicity. MiUPA set up some tables at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum and tempted passers by into testing the usability of the clocks we had brought. We had 4 digital clocks and my dear analog, and we had folks rate the clocks before using them, try to set the alarm, and then we tested to see whether they were successful.
The clocks were typically harder to use than visitors expected, mine included. Folks had trouble setting the alarm using the dial, and even though there were few controls, somehow they weren’t straightforward. The clock ace was a hotel manager, she’s essentially had to become an expert in decoding alarm clock interfaces for her guests. Everyone else struggled with the new alarm clocks. For more background, check out the alarming usability summary slides online (slide 23 for summary stats for this clock). I was sad to see that mine wasn’t the best.
So, now that our Big Ben is unsnoozable, I am shopping for a replacement. I tried to shop in downtown Ann Arbor, but didn’t find an alarm clock at Acme Mercantile or Downtown Home & Garden. I looked online, and was unhappy with the digital clocks available. As an officer in MiUPA, I can’t buy an unusable alarm clock. It would be unprofessional!
I thought back to the Alarming Usability Event, and I remember being suspicious of the conclusion that product design for alarm clocks was generally poor. Only frequent fliers are constantly bombarded by unknown alarm clocks. Those homebodies among us need to learn one clock and keep at it. So, one of my take home message from the event was that using new alarm clocks is difficult business, because they have to be learned. But, a known alarm clock is usable enough for my purposes. So, I’ve decided to eliminate the cognitive load of choosing a new alarm clock and stick to my very own Big Ben Moon Beam. I’m getting my Moonbeam from LL Bean, and while I was tempted by the blue one, I ordered the yellow. Maybe if I switch it quickly I won’t even notice it’s changed when I slap towards the ringing yellow thing’s snooze button.